Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gibt es ein...embedded sexism?

I am taking German classes this year to fulfill the second language requirement for my college. I could have taken Spanish, the second language that I studied for four years in high school, but I decided it would be fun to try to become multi-lingual.

Oh, fun indeed, as Lindsay may be able to attest to.

A while ago I was flipping through the glossary in my book, looking for a vocabulary word so I could do my homework, when a word caught my eye.

(die) Jungfrau. Translation: virgin.

Some explanations for those not familiar with German.

The German language uses three different "genders" of articles (masculine, feminine, and neuter) when referring to nouns. "Die" means "the" and it is feminine.

The word "jung" is German for "young." "Frau" means "woman."

Literally, the German word for virgin translates to "young woman."

Excellent! Slut-shaming embedded in language. There's nothing like associating virginity strictly with women...even if it is rather covert like this.



yellowpansy15 said...

Ich liebe dich, Amelia.

Amelia said...


Anonymous said...

And German is definitely not the only language in which virgin = young woman. Sigh.

Amelia said...

I am only familiar with German, English, and Spanish. Is there another language that literally takes the words "young" and "woman" and puts them together to make "virgin?" That's what caught me about the German word. It wasn't even left to the imagination what was meant by it.

There are, however, plenty of cultural examples of virginity being attributed most strongly to women, as opposed to men, but I don't know about other languages. Do you, girlythoughts?

OutcrazyOphelia said...

On another tip though, the problem may well lie in the attribution of purity to the word virgin and not the concept of virgin= young woman in and of itself. If it wasn't for the connection of purity to virginity and therefore goodness, virgin may well function as another adjective indicating a young woman--just like girl. Without that whole purity issue and its connection to inherent worth, virgin may well have ended up just another word that indicates age/gender and not purity status.

Imagine the difference between "virgin mary" and "young woman mary"

Amelia said...

Excellent point, Ophelia. You know, I was thinking right along those lines as I wrote this. Somehow it escaped making it into the post itself.

Thanks for pointing it out. :)

Lindsay said...

There was a big issue over the RSV translation of the bible that changed "virgin" to "young woman." I'm not sure of the specific passages, but for Christians who believe in the literal word of the bible, it makes a huge difference.

One of many important reasons accurate translating is important!

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you say we tend to define 'virgin' as female in English as well? I posted on this doozy of a word a while back (

As for your burgeoning German expertise, while camping this summer, my German friend had s'mores for the first time (thanks to my goddess-like s'more sharing). Anyhow, she shared that in Germany, bakeries sell a chocolate covered marshmallow concoction. When I asked her what it was called, she said the closest translation was very racist and would be something like nig*** head. What the ?!?!?!? Wow... Have you (or any of your readers) happened upon this lovely German name for chocolate covered marshmallows?

Amelia said...

I have never heard of that, Professorwhatif. Wow.

britkraut said...

@Professorwhatif: I'm part German and live in Germany. Far be it from me to deny that there is lots of everyday racism in Germany - there is and there remains a lot of work to do. However, you won't find any producers selling chocolate-covered marshmallow treats under that name any more (though the word is still around). There's a wikipedia article ( that also covers other languages. You may be interested in that.

Back to the original post: it's definitely sexist, but I never saw it as slut-shaming... there's not really such a virginity cult thing going on in Germany... however I'd like to add that it does imply that men who haven't had sex are not really men. Anyway your post brought home just how easy it is to overlook embedded sexism. Thanks for that.

By the way, "Jungfrau"="virgin", "junge Frau"="young woman" so there's no danger of getting the two confused in day-to-day conversation (it's possible to say you're a young woman without saying you're a virgin). Just in case anyone was worried. Doesn't lessen the sexism of it all, of course.

Madeleine said...

Hey, I just came here via Feministe. I used to live in Germany. The treats are called either "Mohrenkoepfe" (Mohr meaning Moor, like Othello, Koepfe meaning heads) or "Negerkuesse" (Negro or n*gger kisses). The ubiquitous store-bought variety are just called "Dickmann's" and that's how the kids I knew referred to them.

UnFit said...

The wiki article also points out that the treats are now calld Schokokuss or Schaumkuss - chocolate kiss or foam kiss.
It's a bit of a litmus test. Someone who still calls them by the old names is either from some tiny village in the alps with 100 denizens who are all cousins, or they're just plain insensitive and ignorant.

And Britkraut, you pretty much said what I was going to say: we don't have that much of the purity ideal here (I'm German, hi everyone), but young men are under a lot of pressure not to fall into a category that is inherently female.